OCWS Mourns the Passing of Beloved Charley Owen

The OCWS lost long-time member, Charley Owen, who passed away recently. Charley joined the OCWS in 1979, and over the years, he helped shape the Wine Society that we know today.

It is probably impossible to document everything Charley did that benefited the OCWS. He was President and Vice President during numerous years: President—1987, 1997 and Vice President—1990, 1994, 1996.

But, it was his contributions year in and year out that helped the OCWS move forward. Sometimes it was just to get through an event and at other times it was contributing his time and skills to benefit the general needs of the OCWS. For many years, he was integral to preparing and running the Wine Courtyard for the OC Fair, running the Wine Auction, supporting fundraisers by managing the setup and tear down for the Wine Classic and the Wine Extraordinaire, building out the Wine Cellar at The Courtyard or just doing the maintenance needed. And, not the least, supporting many other events too numerous to list.

Charley was many things, husband to Vivien, father to Janet and Charles (a professional brewer), grandfather to Megan and Eric, a devoted member of the OCWS and more. Somehow, he was able to weave his family into his OCWS involvement. His wife, Vivien, was by his side either assisting him or focusing on her own passion, the history of the OCWS. As a grandfather, he involved Megan and Erik at a young age in helping him with the Wine Auction and The Courtyard setup. This eventually brought his son-in-law (Paul Peal) and daughter into the OCWS as members and volunteers. The OCWS is truly a family affair for the Owen clan.

My first memories of Charley were as a volunteer are from the early ‘90s. I don’t recall what I initially thought. It might have been who is this guy that seems to be in charge of so much? Or, it might have been to wonder how he kept that amazing handlebar mustache looking so perfect? Or, at the time, it might have been his love of Zinfandel in those early years. When it came time for volunteers to enjoy wine, Charley looked for the Zinfandel. Of course, as a wine novice, that influenced me to drink a little more Zin. Years later, I learned one of his favorite cocktails away from the OCWS was the Manhattan. He convinced me to drink one or two of those as well. As you can see, he helped me, like many other OCWS members, to develop a fondness for adult beverages. As our friendship grew, my wife, Ronna, and I worked with Charley on many events, whether on committees or just helping with work parties. Through this association, we became friends with Charley and Viv and one time met up with them in Columbus, Ohio, to see the UCLA Bruins versus the Ohio State Buckeyes. Charley was very gracious when the Buckeyes stomped all over the Bruins in victory. I know this because he was still willing to share a few sips from the flask he always took to football games.

The other memory I have is of Charley and his video camera. For many years, he recorded every winemaker tasting that the OCWS hosted at hotels around Orange County. Somewhere in Charley’s archives are videos of California winemakers from the 80’s and 90’s who were celebrated in the industry. Many were winemakers that helped spawn and develop the wine industry in California.

In later years, Charley remained involved in the OCWS. While he might not have been the OCWS member leading an event, he was involved and offered his experience to help the event be a success. Additionally, he became an OCWS Courtyard Ambassador and the Board of Directors honored him with the title of President Emeritus.

So, while Charley has passed, his spirit will live on within the OCWS for many years to come through those he befriended and through his contributions with the OCWS. Somewhere, Charley is patiently waiting for us to join him with a glass of wine in his hand and another sitting on the table for each of us.

Salute, dear friend.

– Craig Rowe, Past President

My wife, Carol, and I joined the Wine Society in 1980 and came to meet Charley and his wife, Vivien, shortly thereafter. For all the years since, we have gotten to know a man who was dedicated to the OCWS and his friends, as well as a good big red wine. Over the years, we were lucky enough to visit Charley at his home and had the privilege of having him make us his favorite cocktail, a Manhattan.

We shared a love of golf, and I remember days on the course with Chuck Howard or John Goodnight, as well as frequent rounds with his grandson, Erik. We came to be friends with his daughter, Janet, and her husband, Paul, and through them we could appreciate the influence Charley and Vivien had on their lives and ultimately ours and all who knew him.

Charley and the family were always kind and generous, which we experienced firsthand during the many days we were involved in Wine Society events. I served on the OCWS Board with Charley and greatly appreciated his support and confidence in me as we developed new programs. Charley was instrumental in the development of the OCWS wine cellar in The Courtyard. Every time I walk in, I think about the days when I was much younger and stronger working with Charley on how to place boxes of wine in respective cubicles. I sat on the ground as he handed me a box to lift overhead and holding it up until he could be sure it was in the right position. My arms would start shaking as he contemplated his next move. In the days before the current sort procedure, Charley, Vivien, my wife and a few others did the sort over about five days. Charley loved the OCWS and always worked to make it better.

As he got older, much of what he did for maintenance at The Courtyard was turned over to his son-in-law, Paul, but Charley was always on a ladder somewhere causing all of us to worry. We eventually got him to come down and enjoy being a symbol of all that was good about the OCWS. Carol and I will always have you in our hearts when we do not have you at a Mini-Tasting or party at our house or as we visit The Courtyard.

– Sam Puzzo